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Review: Luxury Safari at Ivory Lodge Game Reserve

A tracker sits whilst buffalo walk past

A luxury safari had been on our travel list for a while and, as I’m South African, we knew we wanted to experience one in South Africa and combine it with a trip to Cape Town – a city we love. After doing some research, we booked 4 nights at the luxurious Ivory Lodge at Lion Sands, which is owned by the More family and part of the More Collection. It’s located in both Kruger National Park and Sabi Sands.

Affiliate links disclosure: I may receive a small commission when you click through and make a purchase. This is at no cost to you.

How to get to Ivory Lodge

Ivory Lodge Lion Sands is in the Mpumalanga province of South Africa. The easiest way to get there is to fly from one of the major South African cities to Skukuza airport, which is about a 25 minute drive to the lodge.

There are very few airlines that fly to Skukuza and the flights per day are limited so be sure to check the flights when you’re looking to book your safari. We flew into Johannesburg from London and then flew with Airlink to Skukuza. The flight is around an hour and you get a drink and snack onboard. As we were staying in Cape Town after our safari we flew with Airlink direct from Skukuza to Cape Town, which was about two and a half hours. Note that the plane is quite small but both our flights were really smooth.

Skukuza airport is one the most gorgeous and unique airports I’ve been to. How many airports have a baggage claim that’s a thatched hut and a departure lounge that’s not got walls?

Departure lounge at Skukuza Airport

Our tracker for our stay, Norman, met us at the airport and sorted out all the conservation fees, then drove us to Ivory Lodge. The drive is amazing as you’re already in the bush as soon as you leave the airport parking lot! We saw a few buck on the way to our accommodation, which Norman told us the names of.

The facilities at Ivory Lodge Lion Sands

What we loved is that everything is included in the price per night – apart from any spa treatments any tips you want to leave at the end of your stay. So all food, drinks and alcohol in your room, at the bar and restaurants is all included – as are two game drives per day.

There are only eight one-bedroom luxury villas at Ivory Lodge Lion Sands as well as one two-bedroom villa, meaning that even when the lodge is full it will feel exclusive. More on the room later in this post!

There is a reception area, which is where you obviously check in and check out but it’s also where you wait for your daily game drives. It’s a lovely, open space with a water feature and sculptures in the garden.

A buck outside reception at Ivory Lodge

There is a spa where you can book treatments and the gym is also located in the spa area. We didn’t book any treatments – or go to the gym – during our stay. The space is very tranquil though and I can imagine it’s lovely after a massage to just chill out.

Spa area at Ivory lodge

Ivory Lodge offers South African artists the opportunity to do a residency and to be inspired by nature and the beautiful surroundings. You can visit the gallery, see the artist’s work and speak with them about their art and creative process.

There is one restaurant at Ivory Lodge which has both indoor and outdoor seating. When we were there, at the end of October, the weather dropped at night so we only ate dinner outside once.

The outdoor restaurant at Ivory Lodge

We ate breakfast outside most days and we had lunch outside every day.

Poached egg bacon and vegetables

Both the indoor and outdoor restaurants are stylishly decorated. When it’s cold, they will put the fireplace on which gives it a cozy feeling. There is also a big seating area outdoors with a fire pit where you can enjoy a drink before your meal or a nightcap afterwards.

Outdoor seating area with fire

If you need anything washed or ironed, it’s all included. I found this a great service as some of my clothes had got quite crumpled in my luggage.

The villa

As mentioned, there are eight villas at Ivory Lodge, all named after birds. They consist of a large living room and kitchenette, a large bedroom, bathroom and separate shower and toilet. There’s also an outdoor shower, a plunge pool and a large terrace.

Everything in the room is included in your room rate, including a fridge stocked with soft drinks and beer, an actual wine fridge with white, red and sparkling wine and a fully stocked bar to create cocktails! If you get peckish, there are homemade crunchies (a traditional South African biscuit) and some snacks such as chocolate, nougat and nuts.

when we arrived there was a bottle of perfectly chilled South African sparkling wine with a lovely ‘welcome’ card. And on our last night they also had a bottle chilling in ice with a little gift of homemade soap for us to take home as well as rose petals around the room.

Welcome bottle of sparkling wine

The bedroom

The king sized bed was super comfortable with premium sheets and bedding. The bed faces the river so we could see animals from time to time, right from our bed! There’s a curtain that you pull round at night to keep the mosquitoes out – this is all prepared for you with the turn-down service. Note there are are no TV sets in either the bedroom or the living room.

King sized bed with orange cushions

The bathroom is spacious with lots of natural light. There is a gorgeous bath tub, a large indoor shower and a separate toilet. Bathrobes and slippers are provided. There were also bath salts and luxury toiletries – no plastic bottles so as to be environmentally sustainable.

Bathroom at Ivory Lodge

There was also a huge outdoor shower, although I must admit we never used it. I much preferred soaking in the lovely bath tub after the afternoon game drive.

Outdoor shower at Ivory Lodge

The living room

There is a large living room which looks out on the river and opens on to a terrace. It’s open plan with a kitchen area and dining table. There’s a really cute little hatch in the kitchen where you’re brought hot drinks, a smoothie and a muffin in the morning to have before you set off on your game drive.

Living room at Ivory Lodge Lion Sands

On cold days you can ask to have the fireplace lit. We did this on our last day as it was actually quite chilly outside.

Fireplace at Ivory Lodge

The outdoor area

The terrace runs right along the whole villa and you can access it from either the living room or the bedroom. There is a sofa, chairs and sun loungers for you to relax outdoors and sunbath. Each room has a pair of binoculars (for you to take on your game drive) which comes in handy if you want to spot any birds or wildlife outside.

Room with pool at Ivory Lodge

The plunge pool can be heated if you ask. The water was fairly cold and we did ask for it to be turned on but it didn’t seem to really warm up much. There was one day where it was around 30 degrees so the pool was quite refreshing!

Relaxing in the infinity pool

The game drives

Although Ivory Lodge Lion Sands is gorgeous and you almost don’t want to leave the luxurious room, the highlight of any safari is of course the game drives. Throughout your stay you will have the same tracker and guide. We had the lovely Lucia as our guide and Norman, who is a local, as our tracker.

The Land Cruiser seats six guests in three tiered rows of two. We were only with one other couple during our stay and on our last day it was just the two of us. There are cup holders for your personalised water bottle (which you are given when you arrive) as well as ponchos in case it rains and blankets if you get a bit cold.

Land Cruiser for safari

There are two game drives a day – one at 5:30 am and one at 4 pm and they both last around 3 hours. Lion Sands sits in Sabi Sands and Kruger National Park and is home to the Big Five. We were lucky to see all of the Big Five – lion, buffalo, leopard, rhino and elephant – and many more amazing animals and birds.

There were some pretty awe-inspiring moments, such as when around 1,000 buffalo walked around our vehicle!

A tracker sits whilst buffalo walk past

On one drive we walked to the river and saw a pod of around 26 hippo wading. We also spotted a hippo walking and eating grass – it’s quite rare to see them out of water.

During our stay, we saw two different prides of lion and I even spotted one of the prides myself. That was a proud moment as they radio it in so that all the other vehicles can come and see them (they only allow two cars at a time though). We drove fairly close to them and stopped to watch them and then one of them walked right next to our vehicle and was about two inches away from my husband! Not going to lie, my heart was beating pretty fast…

One of my highlights was seeing a herd of elephants walk in front of us – including a baby elephant. That was pretty special.

Two elephants walking into the bush

For the morning game drive, you stop at around 7:30 am to have a hot drink and some snacks, such as biscuits. For the late afternoon drive the stop includes a drink and treats, such as biltong and nuts.

Selection of drinks during a game drive

Each day there were different snacks, which was a lovely touch. My favourite was definitely the biltong!

Sparkling wine and snacks on a game drive

We absolutely loved our game drives and learned so many interesting facts about animals and birds from Lucia and Norman. We had seven drives during our 4 night stay and I’ll be completely honest and say that I thought I might get bored towards the end but I really didn’t – I loved every minute.

What we loved about Lion Sands

Honestly there is so much to love. The villa was incredible and the lodge beautiful. We had the best time on the game drives and got on really well with Lucia and Norman and the other couple.

There is at least one activity when you stay at Lion Sands and ours was breakfast one day at The Hideout, with other guests. That was awesome!

Breakfast table at The Hideout

There was a breakfast buffet as well as eggs cooked to your preference. We don’t normally drink in the morning but we treated ourselves to a mimosa.

Breakfast spread at The Hideout

Because we stayed 4 nights we would have been able to experience the other activity, which was dinner and traditional dancing in the boma. Unfortunately the weather put a stop to that, which was a shame but couldn’t be helped.

There were lots of little touches that made our stay extra special. We had handwritten notes in our room every day and a personalised water bottle that we got to take home with us. One day I had mentioned to Lucia that I was missing crisps and the next day she had the kitchen make us some homemade ones! That was just so lovely and unexpected. And they were delicious!

All the staff were really friendly and made our stay an absolute joy. It seemed like nothing was too much trouble and you’re always encouraged to ask for anything you need.

What could have been improved

One of the things that could have enhanced our stay was if the plunge pool had been heated as it was quite chilly for three of the days we were there and we couldn’t use the pool as the water was too cold.

We unfortunately found the food quite hit and miss. For example, sometimes our meat was over done and other times underdone. We also found the portions to be fairly small. Prior to arriving we were asked if we had any food allergies or anything we didn’t like. I wish I had said then but I didn’t think it would be an issue. When we arrived we were asked again and we listed food items we didn’t particularly like, but weren’t allergic to, and we were told they had made a note of our preferences. Unfortunately, three of the dishes that day contained the food we don’t eat which meant our choices were limited.

The next day we spoke to the manager about the portion sizes and avoiding the food we had said we didn’t eat. After that it was definitely much better. At lunch and dinner we were given slightly bigger portions and also a salad and vegetables as an accompaniment.

Selection of tapas dishes for lunch

Overall, we had a fabulous time at Ivory Lodge Lion Sands and would definitely recommend it. I would advise letting them know in advance of any foods you don’t particularly like so that they can adjust the menu accordingly.

Affiliate links disclosure: I may receive a small commission when you click through and make a purchase. This is at no cost to you.

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Review of Ivory Lodge Lion Sands

Kirsty Marrins

Reader, writer, occasional runner, travel lover.



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